5 Reasons It Sucks To Write A Screenplay in 2014

So you saw a few movies and you’re ready to write one of your own. Awesome! Here’s why you might want to rethink that one:

1. People have seen it all.

Not really, of course. As long as there are humans, or David Bowie, there will always be invention. Sure, there are plenty of porn-addicted psychopathic snot-faced delinquents out there that think there’s nothing new under the sun. They’d snort bath salts before they’d paint or pick flowers in a field, and that just ain’t healthy. (Unless you’re allergic to pollen or something, which is frankly just a little bit sad.)

Gonna be honest, this is not a cute look for you.

Gonna be honest, this is not a cute look for you.

This impressed-by-nothing mentality means that when something genuinely beautiful or inspired comes along, people will be too busy shitting on it to realize that they just missed another opportunity to salvage their humanity. That’s why so many movies are loud, graphic, and/or fast. In the Age of Now, there’s no room for subtext (unless the subtext is that everything and everyone is awful or untrustworthy). Which brings me to my next point:

2. Whimsy is out of style.

Remember the Wizard of OzMary PoppinsWilly Wonka? Even Amelie, just a little over a decade ago? These were colorful, quirky movies with a lot of heart and musical numbers and memorable characters. They didn’t rely on shock or nihilism or gore, they were windows into elaborate fantasy worlds, as delicate and otherworldly as they were hopeful and optimistic.

It makes sense that our culture evolved the way it did. Progress has made us more interconnected but less attached, passive viewers of an increasingly complex world. We consume media more frequently and when we revisit the stories that once delighted us, we do so with critical lenses. Trust me, I’ve got examples: 2013’s second look at Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks, revealed its real-life creator to be an uppity control freak whose dad was a self-destructive alcoholic. Sam Raimi’s Oz prequel, Oz: The Great and Powerful, re-imagined The Wicked Witch as a heartbroken harlot who embraced her darkest, most hate-filled ambitions and devolved from a white-washed hottie to a green-faced nottie. Then you have Tim Burton sucking the blood out of classics like it’s his job. Which, yep… it is. Seriously, did this do it for anyone:

Just One Facelift Short of Joan Rivers.

Just one facelift short of Joan Rivers.

Even the world of animation is getting darker by the minute. The brilliant Pixar is a beacon for creativity in contemporary Hollywood, but the plot-lines of Wall-E and Up tread on decidedly sad territory. Meanwhile, Laika’s Coraline and ParaNorman fully embrace the macabre, while adult-geared gems like Mary & Max and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist  are downright morose. These movies usually end well, but they’re not shy about showing audiences just how effed the world can be. I can’t fault them for their sincerity, but wouldn’t it be great to see a handful of well-crafted movies in 2014 that were just unabashedly naive? For the children?!!

So okay, cheery, smartly crafted stories would be nice. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that:

3. Studios Don’t Want It Unless It’s Familiar. 

Harry Potter, The Avengers, Hunger Games, Man of Steel, Twilight, Dark Knight – these had surefire box office appeal, because every one of them already proved lucrative. So here you are, laboring over your quiet indie with multi-dimensional characters and relatable problems that’s a totally NEW take on the same old shit, but hang tight, what’s the backstory? If it ain’t 3-7 books’ worth of stuff, and hasn’t topped the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, then good luck!

Let’s say you somehow strike gold with an original idea. Chances are, it is not especially innovative or abstract. Some Corporate Lug-Head decided it was close enough to a story he’d already seen, with enough key differences to make it not-an-infringement-of-copyright and you got the green light. Let’s be real: do you think Tyler Perry became a multi-millionaire by having an uncompromising artistic vision? No, he became a household name because it’s scientifically proven that men in dresses are funny. No matter how good or bad they look, no matter how accurate or distant their impression of a woman may be. Whether you’re RuPaul or Wesley Snipes, it’s funny. Always. Perry knew this and went all in.

The face of a man who's got it all figured out.

The face of a man who’s got it all figured out.

The moral of his story: resign yourself to the fact that what fulfills you isn’t necessarily what makes you shit-faced rich, and you’re one step closer to success. But even so:

4. The Odds of Making It Are Way Against You.

Realistically consider the fact that there are maybe tens of thousands of people who pursue this path every year. How many make it? What did it take for them to get to that place?

I’ll give you a hint, raw talent alone didn’t land them the spot. It was writing. Rewriting. Writing. Editing. Rewriting. Networking. Finding Opportunity. Finding Feedback. Writing. Re– You get the picture. It’s a lot of work that demands a lot of time people don’t have. Especially people straight out of college with $100,000+ in debt; forget the disadvantage of not living in LA. Young dreamers such as myself just aren’t statistically in a very good place. Nor are we actually. I guess that’s why modern media is so cynical. Not that I can really knock it. Being perfectly honest, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad for its elaborate song-breaks (though I totally would have if Vince made that a real thing).

I always thought this was a missed opportunity to break into song.

I always thought this was a missed opportunity to segue into a musical number. You can see it in his eyes.

Speaking of Vince and his brand of nothing-goes-right storytelling, let’s get to our 5th and final Reason that it Sucks to Write a Screenplay in 2014:

5. It’s Tough As Balls.

Just like that story you’re writing about the guy or gal who faces insurmountable odds, there’s nothing easy about this career. If you really REALLY want it, you’ll get beaten up and spit on and face a TON of rejection. If you believe in your ideas and you are determined to preserve them, it’s gonna take an even bigger dose of some Queen Bey fierceness. In that case, calling yourself a screenwriter might not be enough. You may have to band together with a group of likeminded merry men and take the reigns yourself as director. Auteurs may be rare, but the good ones are most certainly in fashion – creative giants like Guillermo Del Toro, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Alfonso Cuaron are just a few happy dissenters in a largely uncreative mainstream. They are all visionary, whether it be as storytellers, art directors, or tech-innovators. And above all, they have TREMENDOUS authority over the outcome of their work.

Ok, so maybe whimsy isn't dead.

Ok. So maybe whimsy isn’t dead.

Nobody said success would be a sure thing. But the reward for wholly devoting yourself to your passion must be indescribable. I’m only now making realistic steps toward my greater goal of becoming a successful storyteller, but it pays to remember: you have to start somewhere. Even if I’m only just now in the infant stage.

Here’s to hoping for some big leaps in 2014.

Enjoy it, my lovelies! Now’s the time.

Show Don’t Tell

I + Love + You. Three words that can be pretty weighty in succession. But then again, are they ever really enough?

Would we believe in Forrest’s love for Jenny if he’d professed it once, then lounged on his couch eating cheetos and collecting unemployment checks for the rest of forever? No. No way. We needed to see him punch-out her boyfriends. To run across the country. And to wait patiently for her chaotic life of drugs and hippie-sex to come to a screeching STD-riddled halt.

When he said, “I love you,” we believed him. Because we knew the words were true well before they came out of his mouth.

Same was true of the Tramp, who boxed his way into the heart of the Blind Flower Girl in City Lights. Or the childlike Edward Scissorhands, who assumed the role of town pariah per instruction of Winona Ryder. Hell, the charm of Amelie was the fact that her infatuation was never stated outright. The whole movie was a series of elaborately planned gestures of love. A show of an emotion so BIG, it couldn’t possibly be tamed with words.

He's a lover, not a fighter.

Fighting for the one he loves… One hug at a time.

It’s true in the movies. And it’s true in real-life too. Because what is sex? A primal display of a feeling? The body’s way of showing love? Some might say it’s an extreme alcohol-inspired lowering of standards, but I digress.

Action, more than words, is essential for just about anything. Case in point:

I’m an astronaut.

You believe me, right? I mean, I did SAY it. So it must be true. Right?! Of course it is! So come on, fork over the paycheck. Move it, buddy. I’ve got planets to hop and people to see.

Hell no. Unless I’m wearing a space suit and touting a fancy schmancy NASA ID badge, I’m delusional.

Our dreams won’t define us until we live them. Nothing is really real until the world sees it. Furthermore, society’s all about boxes. Which is why we’re not actors without a stage. We’re not writers without a page. In the end, we’re not anything until the world catches us doing it.

So what are you waiting for? Get in!

So what are you waiting for? Get in!

This is partly why we find certain fictional characters so compelling. They live lives we don’t, and make the sort of choices we’d like to think we could make. Hard choices. Things like: should I blow up the other boat? Or just hope they don’t blow up mine?

All things I will consider when I bully my characters. Because, when push comes to shove, they are who I hope to be.

Back to my script. 50+ pages and still crawling to the end.

See y’all next week!

And in the meantime, here’s some more fun reading material:

A Fellow Writer’s Homage to Pulp Fiction

A Beautifully Written Post About Giving Yourself (And Your Characters) A Break

Quick Quote About Film As a Projection of Human Experience

Getting Started As a Screenwriter

Storytellers, Are You TV or Film? Also Details The Impact of China In Modern Movie Market

Screenwriters Unite! Blue Cat’s 30 Day Challenge

A week ago, I published a self-motivating post about the process of writing.

It functioned as a reminder of the fruits of labor that come from adapting a Nike “Just do it” attitude. My own virtual pep talk. And it was also an opportunity to promote another highly talented WordPress blogger.

I had fun writing it, and public reception was absolutely fabulous. Y’all responded so awesomely, in fact, it reminded me why it pays to set some time aside and do this ish. Writing isn’t really a solitary thing anymore. And let’s face it, we can all use that gentle nudge that says, “Keep going, buddy. You’re not alone.”

So now I’m about to put my money where my mouth is (figuratively of course, because as a banker-by-day, I truly know how gross money is).

Thanks to LA Screenwriter, it’s come to my attention that there’s an upcoming screenwriting challenge hosted by Blue Cat. The goal: To complete an entire script in 30 days. That’s a 3 page minimum per day for one month.

So that may sound totally scary – but here’s the thing. There’s no demand to pen the next Citizen Kane or Social Network (this generation’s Citizen Kane). The reason for taking part is to development a habit. A good habit. Because you need one, slacker.

As do I. Right now, I’m writing almost daily. Closer to every other day really. Sure, it’s not bad. But none of that work is going toward the thing I love the most: screenwriting. At the moment, I have a handful of short scripts, half of a full length, and a ton of unproduced ideas. Ok, not a ton. A few. But they’re good ones! (Denial’s a powerful thing).

Semantics! For the Fall Goalpost Challenge, starting this Monday the 16th and ending October 15th, I have my story. What is it, you ask! Well let me tell you: It’s part personal experience, part surrealist Jim Henson-esque fantasy. I want it to flow in the most fluid possible way, so I’m following the age-old advice of writing what I know. And I’m approaching it from the standpoint of: If it’s entertaining to me, fuck the masses.

I’m very pumped to start this. And I encourage any other screenwriters to do the same.

To assure that progress is being made, Blue Cat request that you check in at their Fall Goalpost Events Page on Facebook daily. Here’s a chance to not only share what’s written, but to also get inspired by everyone else who’s doing a way better job than you.

I kid of course. In the end, it’s about community. It’s about finding an effective writing ritual. And it’s about committing that abstract idea to the page. Whether it’s a first step to a long and prosperous career in screenwriting, or just a way to flex your writing muscles, it’ll be a fantastic exercise.

So get on it! I hope to see you at the finish line.

See you Monday!

Bad Dialogue: 5 Things NOT to Do

Newbie screenwriters almost always struggle with the exact same thing: Dialogue.

Understandably. You want to lovingly breath life into the characters, but there’s that pesky rule that you should show up late and leave early. You want motives to be clear, but you don’t want anything stated outright. And you want your heroes to be fleshed out, but you don’t want to pause the story to do so.

A common misconception is that movie dialogue should mirror the real world. NOT THE CASE. Nobody’s unfiltered daily life is worthy of a screenplay. Unless you wake up with a bomb for a heart a la Jason Statham in Crank. Not even kidding, best movie premise ever.

So let’s review some Not-To-Do’s. Complete with samples extracted from the thrill-ride that is Spencer and AJ’s romantic relationship. I’ve got 5 big no’s-no’s for y’all:

1. DO NOT have characters repeat the same tactic over and over again to get what they want. This one really irks me. Let’s take a look:

SPENCER

AJ, I tire of walking! Can you carry me?

AJ

No.

SPENCER

Please.

AJ

No.

SPENCER

Please!

AJ

No.

2. AVOID characters that are noncommittal and talk without intention.

SPENCER

AJ I wanna go out.

AJ

Ok. Where would you like to go?

SPENCER

I don’t know.

AJ

What are you in the mood for?

SPENCER

Uuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmm… You pick. I can’t decide.

AJ

We could go to O’Connors for pub food?

SPENCER

Pub food? More like pube food.

AJ

Ok. Want something healthier? We could do vegan at Evo or sushi at The Sole?

SPENCER

I’m sick of those places. I wanna try something new!

AJ

There’s that new italian place that opened down the street? Let’s check it out!

SPENCER

But I’m broke!

3. USE subtext. It’s boring when characters say exactly what they mean.

SPENCER

Wanna have sex?

AJ

Sure.

4. The plot should feel “naturally” motivated. People shouldn’t talk just to move things forward.

AJ

Spencer, we’ve got to get up.

SPENCER

5 more minutes.

AJ

You said that 45 minutes ago.

SPENCER

Times have changed, AJ. Everything’s different now.

AJ

Cute. You still have to get up though.

SPENCER

I don’t need a shower. I already smell like a flowery spring meadow!

AJ

Yes Cleopatra. But your hair’s a mess. Think about your reputation. What if the public sees you this way, sans pomade? The press would have a field day.

SPENCER

AJ, there’s no time for trivial conversation! I’ve got a date with the showerhead!

5. AVOID monologues. No one wants to hear characters talk in big blocky sentences without interruption.

AJ

So, anyway. Tipping Point. Phenomenal. Goldwell breaks down the different types of Participants in the 80/20 Principal. Which is, you know, the idea that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the participants. The way he explains it is by identifying the Connectors, the Mavens, and the Salesmen. The connectors are the ones who know people. The mavens are the information oracles. And the salesmen are the persuaders. I see myself as a Connector and a little bit of a Maven. But my friend Margie’s been reading it too and she thinks I’m more of a Salesman. Thoughts?

SPENCER

Wha?

So there you have it! 5 Points that, if avoided, could solidify your status as the next Aaron Sorkin. Well, the NEXT next Aaron Sorkin. After me.

–Toodles!

Oh, and as an end note: I know its Malcolm GLADWELL that wrote the Tipping Point.  But let’s just let AJ have this one thing.

gladwelltippingpoint

Featured Photo borrowed from London’s Lost Rivers

A Real Writer Writes

In pursuit of inspiration, I uncovered this nugget from fellow wordpress blogger Amrit Sonya Bains at The Writer’s Expedition.

Screenwriting: Avoid Stagnant Screenwriters Like the Plague

She is fabulous. And she offers some pretty rad advice: Just do.

Inertia, noun [In-er-tia]

1. inertness, especially with regard to effort, motion, action, and the like; inactivity; sluggishness.

Inertia is the #1 enemy of creativity. Would-be writers hide behind its mask. They claim inspiration and thoughtfulness and depth, but those are just words. As fleeting and meaningless as a soft breeze. If you’re truly inspired, you let every letter sting like a yellow jacket.

By that I mean: you don’t just talk about it. Nor do you just mull over half-baked concepts or premises. You commit to your idea and put it on the page. Then you rewrite and edit and show it to other [brutally] honest people so they can tell you it’s shit. Then you do it all again. Over and over. Make no mistake: writing is a process.

Maybe you’ve got the gift of gab. Maybe you have a certain eloquence when it comes to stringing words together. That’s great! We could use someone like you. Chances are, if the above is true, you can also probably write. But is it who you are?

Is it maddening when you can’t find the right word to describe a lightbulb? Do you rewrite and edit and obsess over a single sentence till your friends stage interventions? When the world sleeps, do you come alive with an unignorable inspiration? If these apply, you’ve probably felt the sting.

One encouraging law of physics is that an object in motion will stay in motion. Getting started is the challenge. And for me, there was really only one thing that ever held me back. Scratch that, one thing that I ever allowed to hold me back. It was stupid, too. But it’s a simple way to justify any resistance to anything. Yep. You know it: Fear.

But here’s the thing, it’s just a word. A powerless one, if you want it to be. Words only become real when we believe in them. That’s why Middle Earth feels so authentic. Sure, only loonies and cosplayers actually think Hobbits exist. But that doesn’t mean us normies can’t buy into their journey. If we didn’t, Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien never would have become household names.

Reading Amrit’s post is a great reminder that you are what you do. If you devote time to writing, you’re a writer. If it absorbs you – daily, hourly, secondly – AND it excites you, you may one day achieve something great. But if you penned something in the past, you’re just a lady or a boy or a ladyboy who’s written. Nothing more. And frankly, what you have written probably could have been better, if you’d kept in practice. After all, you wouldn’t run a marathon without a few months (or years) of training. Unless you want a majorly death-tastic Charley Horse.

Beyond that, your world effects you. No artist can thrive in a vacuum. So choose your friends and collaborators wisely. The best fortune cookie I ever received heeded this warning:

“Enthusiasm is contagious. Not having enthusiasm is also contagious.”

I re-read this quotation almost daily. It’s so true. And it’s a constant re-evaluation. Am I the person I want to be? Are the people I’m keeping around enabling me to be that person? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” something’s seriously effed. The world is what you make it.

So let it in. Let it inspire you. Volley with your ideas. Give and take. And if something ain’t right, move on. Do what you have to do, just don’t stop doing things you love. Keep going. The world will appreciate it.

photograph borrowed from Eloise Moorehead